Statements and Speeches

WASHINGTON - Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, convened the hearing, "Oversight: Review of the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Standards for Hydraulically Fractured Natural Gas Wells." For more information or to view a webcast of the hearing, click here.

A copy of his statement as prepared for delivery is below:

Today, we hear a lot about the incredible boom in natural gas production in this country. We hear how this boom has allowed us to see extremely low natural gas prices – low prices that not only bring our energy costs down, but also help our manufacturers become more competitive.

The surge of production is mainly due to a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As the low hanging fruit of easily accessible reservoirs dry up, natural gas producers have increasingly turned toward fracking to access more unconventional shale gas formations. Recently, the use of fracking has skyrocketed to an estimated 11,400 new fractured wells each year. And these numbers are expected to grow.

As the use of fracking increases, we have a responsibility to ensure that development happens responsibly and our shared environment remains protected – especially the air we breathe. Without control technology – fracking can result in the release of natural gas and methane into the atmosphere.

Beyond wasting a limited energy resource, these emissions can damage our air. The natural gas emissions contain harmful pollutants that form ozone and can also cause cancer. And the methane released by fracking is a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Before April of this year, only states like Colorado and Wyoming required the capture of these emissions. There were no federal regulations regarding fracking emissions. I was encouraged when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped up to address the lack of regulation for this growing industry and growing source of emissions this April with the release of new air standards for oil and gas production.

These new standards focused on fractured natural gas wells – asking industry to clean up their air pollution emissions by 2015. Mirrored after state regulations in Wyoming and Colorado - these new rules are a common sense, win-win solution for both industry and the environment. The rules will significantly reduce the amount of smog-producing, cancerous air pollutants released by fractured wells, primarily through a process known as reduced emissions completions, or 'green completions.'

Green completions use special equipment to capture the natural gas that normally escapes into the atmosphere during the fracking process. This 'green completion' approach represents a victory both for clean air and industry because once the emissions are captured using the green completion method, the gas companies can turn around and sell that natural gas instead of letting it escape unused into the atmosphere.

The additional profits earned by selling this captured gas are expected to offset the costs of the new equipment and training necessary to implement the rule. Not only will these standards significantly reduce harmful air pollution, the industry may well come out ahead in the end, too – a win-win for industry and the environment. That is why Colorado and Wyoming and a number of municipalities already require green completions, and many operators are using the technique voluntarily.

After reviewing over 150,000 comments, the EPA has also provided a reasonable schedule for producers to capture their excess natural gas through green completions. Producers will have until 2015 to fully comply with the new rules. The result will be significantly improved air quality for everyone.

This regulation shows that the choice between a clean environment and a strong economy is a false choice. We can have both clean air and a strong energy sector in this country. Our shale gas formations have enormous potential and will certainly play a key role in America's energy future. But this potential must be utilized responsibly.

The new EPA air standards strike the proper balance between a healthy environment and our energy needs. And on that note, I look forward to having an open and thoughtful dialogue with our witnesses and colleagues today.